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NHL Anaheim Ducks

Henrique’s OT Goal Lifts New Jersey Devils to Fifth Stanley Cup Final

The New Jersey Devils are going back to where they once belonged, The Stanley Cup Final.  The Devils exploded onto the ice after defeating their fiercest rivals, the New York Rangers in game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in overtime.

Rookie Adam Henrique collected the series clinching goal just over a minute into the extra period to eliminate the Rangers by a score of 3-2 and win the series 4-2.

It was a long time coming and it was finally happening.

“Henrique, Henrique, Henrique,” will now haunt the top-seeded Rangers, as once again they are sent to the off-season wondering about what could have been.

http://youtu.be/nW-jq4EoNqE

For those of us that still remember where we were when Stephane Matteau broke our hearts many, many years ago it was well worth the wait.

Rookie Adam Henrique deftly knocked the game-winning goal passed goalie Henrik Lundqvist on a chaotic goal mouth scramble to send his teammates and the home crowd into a frenzy. Imagine, a player that was just four-years-old in 1994 is responsible for exorcising the ghosts of 18 years ago.

The 22-year-old also scored the game-winnining overtime goal in game 7 of the Devils first round series win over the Florida Panthers. The heroics didn’t end with Henrique though. Once again it was a total team effort.

The fourth line came through by scoring the ever important first goal of the game. Ryan Carter banged in a Stephen Gionta rebound to get New Jersey the lead. It was the ninth goal from the fourth  in this postseason, all of them during 5 on 5 play.

The trio of Carter, Gionta and Steve Bernier have earned their money by scoring big goals for the Devils this postseason. They have become an invaubale part of the teams offensive arsenal and perhaps one of the biggest reasons the club in returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning it in 2003.

Then it was Ilya Kovalchuk’s turn to answer the call. Kovalchuk’s seventh goal of the postseason and fifth on the power play gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead. All five Devils skaters touched the puck with crisp passes ending with Dainus Zubrus finding Kovalchuk alone in front for a shot that Lundqvist had little chance to stop.

Kovalchuk picked up his seventh goal of the playoffs on the power play to give New Jersey the always precarious multi-goal lead through the first 20 minutes of play. New Jersey finished 1for3 with the man advantage in the game.

And like clockwork – the Rangers clawed their way back in to the game by out working and out shooting the Devils 13-7 in the middle frame and scoring two goals of their own to tie the game up.

Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan beat Martin Brodeur less then four-minutes apart to give New York a glimmer of hope. Fedotenko was a bright spot for the Rangers during the series, collecting at least a point in his fourth straight game.

Brodeur became the story in the third period. The 40-year-old made eight saves, several of the spectacular variety to keep the Rangers at bey, including a couple on vintage double-pad stacks to shut the door on Brad Richards and Artem Anisimov.

Brodeur won’t admit it, but beating the Rangers like this has to be sweet.

For me personally It was a long time coming. Obviously, winning the Conference Finals and heading to clubs fifth Stanley Cup appearance is special, but it’s magnified immensely when it comes at the hands of the teams bitter rival.

Despite winning three Cups since the loss in ’94, I never quite got over that sinking feeling that came with the double OT game 7 loss. In a way this makes up for that.

Sports are funny that way. They became so personal on so many different levels and they sometimes have a way of coming full circle and righting all that has wronged your favorite team.This was the righting of my wrong.

The Devils have a few days to prepare for their next opponent, the Los Angeles Kings. The Stanley Cup Final kicks off next Wednesday in Newark. The Devils have been the road team in all three previous rounds until now. New Jersey will have home ice advantage by virtue of the Kings being the eight-seed in the West.

It will be a fantastic series. I think I will enjoy what happened tonight and just let it soak in for a bit. After 18 years I don’t think that’s too much to ask for. Do you?

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Email me at StevePalumboNHL@gmail.com